Toronto has so many fun neighbourhoods to explore, and the Distillery District will forever be one of my favourites! There’s always something new and exciting going on there, and no matter how many times I visit – whether it’s to experience their famous Christmas Market, check out a new art installation, or simply to shop, dine and hang out – I never get tired of it!
The history of the Distillery District is quite a fascinating one! It’s the original home of the Gooderham & Worts whisky distillery, which was founded in 1832 and consists of 47 buildings. During the deindustrialization of the late 20th century, the distillery began shutting down its operations, and the surrounding neighbourhood started to fall into disrepair. In 2001, a group of developers purchased the site and began restoring the derelict buildings – while still maintaining their original character and charm – in an effort to transform the neighbourhood into the unique historic destination it is today. The revitalized Distillery District opened in 2003 and continues to be one of Toronto’s top attractions for tourists and locals alike. It’s free to visit (except during certain events) and open to pedestrian traffic only, but be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes – those cobblestone streets are pretty, but they aren’t too kind to stiletto-wearers!
Here are some of my top recommendations for things to do in the Distillery District.
Art Installations – Every time I visit, the Distillery District always seems to have an exciting new art installation in place! On my most recent visit in early July, there was 6IX Art Outdoors, featuring 13 vibrant statues painted by noteworthy Canadian artists. Last summer, it was the Spring Stations exhibit (a modified iteration of Woodbine Beach’s annual Winter Stations event, which had to be postponed that year due to COVID.) Spring Stations featured several larger-than-life installations by international artists, which visitors were encouraged to explore and interact with. The Distillery District is also home to many permanent art installations that make popular selfie spots for folks visiting the Distillery, such as the giant red heart statue at Mill Street and Parliament, and the love locks sculpture on Tank House Lane.
Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie – This upscale French bistro is regularly featured on lists of Toronto’s best restaurants. Open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, their menu offerings are creative and innovative – their tagline is “not your parents’ French bistro.” In terms of atmosphere, there’s no bad table at Cluny. The interior is styled like a classic French brasserie, with vibrant patterned floor tiles, coffered ceilings, and gilded mirrors adorning the brick walls. The secluded patio shelters guests under a lush canopy of leaves, adorned with twinkling lights. When my parents took me and Tania to Cluny in early July to celebrate my birthday, we opted to sit on the beautiful patio. I ordered the Chocolate Bread Pudding French Toast – which was incredibly decadent – and the smoking Rose Royal cocktail (they use dry ice to create the effect!) Tania and my dad each ordered the classic Farmhouse Breaky, and my mom enjoyed the Shore Lunch (consisting of breaded Fogo Island cod and shrimp.)
Mill Street Brewery – This casual brewpub offers classic pub food staples such as nachos, burgers and wings, and you can choose from over 20 Mill Street beers and ciders. There’s also a bottle shop in front where you can pick up beverages to go, and they even offer brewery tours.
Yummi Candles – This elegant boutique sells a selection of luxe candles, candle accessories and home fragrances. They also offer workshops where you can learn the art of candle-making and create your own custom candle to take home!
Maisonette – Owned by local chocolatier Laura Slack, this shop sells a selection of her gourmet chocolate bars, truffles and other goodies. In the summer, they have a cute ice cream cart out front selling frozen treats.
John Fluevog – The shoes and boots from this iconic Canadian designer are instantly recognizable, and this trendy boutique houses some of his most covetable designs. I don’t think I could walk in some of the more avant-garde pairs – but they sure are fun to look at!
Blackbird Vintage Finds – This small but well-appointed store stocks quirky antiques and vintage collectibles alongside a curated selection of unique stationery, books and gifts.
Arta Gallery – This contemporary art gallery hosts an eclectic collection of paintings, photography and sculptures by artists from Canada and abroad.
Maxime Zeaberg – There’s nothing that speaks to my style more than a flowy, floral print maxi dress. Designer Maxime Zeaberg’s hand-block-printed dresses, made from natural and organic fabrics, fit the bill!
These are just a few of my top spots in the Distillery District, but I highly recommend you visit the neighbourhood for yourself and discover some of your own favourites! There’s always a new event or installation to check out, so be sure to keep an eye on the Distillery District website for updates, and check out the Instagram reel I made about my last visit!
Leave a Reply